America by Air: Circles and Squares in the Desert

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Yesterday, after posting an aerial view above a nuclear power plant and linking back to one above a wind-powered plant, I asked readers if they have one above a solar-powered plant. Adam Feiges delivers a beauty:

Adam Feiges

This shot was taken on a flight from Sky Harbor in Phoenix to San Diego. I especially love the juxtaposition of the rectangular solar array and the circular center pivot irrigators.

Located in Yuma County, Arizona, near Dateland, the Agua Caliente station can generate 290 MW of electricity, enough to power 100,000 “average” homes. The array consists of 5.2 million cadmium/telluride thin film modules on fixed tilt mounts no more than six feet above the ground “to reduce the visual impact.” That’s a bit ironic considering 5,200,000 of anything is going to have a hell of a visual impact, even from 32,000 feet in the air.

The power station, which is bigger than 1800 football fields and is one the largest in the world, is owned in part by MidAmerican Renewables, a Berkshire Hathaway company and a nice visual representation of the enormity of Warren Buffet’s wealth. In a slight coincidence, MidAmerican is my hometown utility and I emailed the photo from my office in the MidAmerican Building.

Next up: A hydroelectric dam? A coal-power plant? If you have either, please drop us a note: